For those who have a strong sweet tooth but still want to enjoy a healthy diet, there is great news. There are a whole variety of natural sweeteners available – some new to the Western diet, and some old favorites – that avoid both the risks associated with refined sugar (weight gain, diabetes) and those associated with artificial sweeteners like aspartame (cancer, neurological issues). Below, six of the best natural sweeteners are discussed.
The leaves of this plant, which is native to South America and has been used there as a sweetener for centuries, is actually 300 times sweeter than sugar when processed. Despite all this, it has no glycemic impact (meaning it will not spike up the blood sugar like diabetes) and no calories and is now the second most popular sugar substitute in the United States. It is a great product for those managing their diabetes or those trying to achieve a healthy weight.
Xylitol is derived from various fruits and vegetables, corn and even hardwood trees. It, too, is sweeter than sugar, so very little is required for most recipes and foods. Because of the difference in its chemical structure (it has five carbon atoms rather than the usual six), it has anti-bacterial properties as well. It can be found in most health food stores and mainstream supermarkets as well.
Coconut and its products are increasingly popular in the United States, and this includes coconut sugar that is derived from coconut palm which is heated and processed into granules. Like Xylitol and Stevia, it is very low on the glycemic index and has a rich taste similar to brown sugar. It can be easily substituted for refined sugar in many recipes.
This fruit is made from dehydrated dates which are then ground into a fine powder. Its texture and taste make it an ideal alternative to brown sugar in particular. Even better, the date sugar retains many of the nutritional benefits of the dates themselves, including fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, although it is great in wholegrain bread, it will not be compatible with all baking recipes.
Honey has been used to sweet foods since ancient times and it is still one of the most popular natural sweeteners available today. To reap its full array of health benefits, be sure to buy honey that is local and “raw” (unpasteurized). The raw honey contains nutrients that are lost in the processing, including vitamins, minerals and compounds that promote healing, strengthen the immune system and fight infections.
Maple syrup is not just for pancake anymore! This natural sweetener – which can also be bought as maple sugar once it has been dehydrated – is, like honey, rich in nutrients and also has properties that promote a strong immunity. Be aware, however, that is information only applies to real maple syrup; commercial table brands are an unappetizing mixture of high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes and flavors.
With sweeteners like these, it is entirely possible to get a “sugar fix” while still leading a healthy lifestyle. These natural sugar substitutes will also bring with them a variety of health benefits that refined sugar can never hope to match.
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